March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month
March 1, 2017 13:33 pm CST
March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month in the United States. MS, as it is commonly known by, is an auto-immune disease that attacks the body's nervous system according to MSAA (Multiple Sclerosis Association of America). In a healthy body, nerve fibers (also referred to as “axons“) have a protective, fatty-rich protein covering known as myelin. This covering insulates the nerve fibers, similar to the insulating rubber covering of an electric wire. Myelin allows for the smooth and uninterrupted flow of nerve impulses, which in turn, enables the body to send vital instructions from the brain to the different parts of the body. With multiple sclerosis (MS), the body’s own system of defense, known as the immune system, malfunctions. It sends disease-fighting cells into the central nervous system (CNS) that may destroy the body’s own myelin. This occurs because the immune system is incorrectly identifying the myelin in the CNS as a foreign body. When the body’s own immune system attacks its own tissue, this is referred to as an “autoimmune disease,” and MS is believed to fall into this category. Examples of other autoimmune diseases include lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. MS is usually diagnosed in young adults age 15-50 years old however people of any age could be diagnosed. There are approximately 400,000 Americans that have been diagnosed with MS and as many as 2.5 million people worldwide. There are approximately 10,000 new cases diagnosed in the US each year. On average, with relapsing forms of MS, women are 3 times more likely to develop this disorder than men. Geographically, people who live farther from the equator or poles are at a higher risk of developing MS, possibly tied to vitamin D levels and sunlight exposure. Another factor that may be linked to MS is cigarette smoking. Women who smoke are 1.6 times more likely to develop MS than non-smoking women and the disease tends to progress more rapidly in smokers. While the actual cause of MS has yet to be determined, you should be aware of the common symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Types and severity of symptoms can vary greatly from person to person but here are some common ones: stiffness, mobility or walking issues, speech difficulties, swallowing disorders, bowel or bladder problems, tremor, anxiety, cognitive changes, depression, balance or dizziness issues, fatigue or weakness, numbness, pain, visual disorders, sleep issues. If you experience one or more of these symptoms, talk to your physician. Multiple Sclerosis can be a debilitating disease but with more new treatments becoming available and more data/studies being conducted, the future looks bright for people affected by this disease.